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Pass at Glencoe Scotland / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

Although the mist partially obscures our view of the Scottish Highlands, it cannot hide the wonderful interplay of dusky hues in this stunning watercolor by Thomas Moran.1 The work depicts the bridge over the River Coe, which flows through a glen hemmed in by steep cliffs that are surrounded by even loftier mountain peaks. Moran leads us into the image via the river, its blue-gray waters rimmed by rocks topped with the golden tans and russet browns of peat moss. The waterway directs our attention to the bridge, where a horse-drawn carriage exits the stone span just as a herd of cattle followed by a cowherd begins to cross.2 The stagecoach probably departed from Glencoe, the small village that lies between the bridge and mountains. Although we cannot see the town, and fog enshrouds the mountains, we can discern small rivulets on the hillsides as they wend their way down to the Coe. Glencoe is sometimes referred to as the “weeping valley,” a reference to the town’s history rather than its topography, for this is the site of the massacre of the MacDonalds in 1692.3

Alasdair MacIain of Glencoe, the chief of the MacDonald clan, at first refused to take an oath of allegiance to King William III of England. Although MacIain eventually relented, some members of the British government had already decided to make an example of him and the MacDonalds. After pledging his oath, MacIain believed he and his clan were safe. Thus, observing the traditions of Highland hospitality, MacIain welcomed a garrison of British troops into Glencoe, and the MacDonalds provided them with food and shelter for twelve days. On February 12, 1692, however, the British received orders that no Scottish man under seventy in Glencoe was to be spared; the following morning, they executed MacIain and thirty-five men, women, and children of the MacDonald clan. MacIain’s wife and two sons, along with about fifty more people, escaped into the Highlands during a fierce snowstorm. Most died of exposure. The handful of survivors never revealed who or how many died, and the bodies were never recovered.4

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

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1 Gilcrease owns Moran’s sketches Pass of Glencoe (13.782) and Pass of Glencoe (13.783), and the etchings Bridge in the Pass of Glencoe — Scotland (14.396) and The Pass of Glencoe (14.407b).
2 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 223–24.
3 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 223–24. As Wilkins notes, the history of the Glencoe massacre was known to Moran, and perhaps influenced the artist’s decision to portray the area. Moreover, the incident appears to have been well-known among his contemporaries. In an 1886 review of the artwork, the critic noted that this was “where the massacre of the MacDonald’s took place.” “Art Notes,” The Critic, 108, quoted in Anderson et al., Thomas Moran, 133.
4 Roberts, Clan, King, and Covenant, 225–35.

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Title(s): 
Pass at Glencoe Scotland
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1882
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor with white gouache on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.1636
Previous Number(s): 
1964; 0226.1636; 30305
Department: 
Signed by hand in watercolor with colophon, "TMoran 1882" in lower left on recto; Signed by hand in pencil, "TMoran" in lower center on verso; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "The pass of Glencoe, Scotland. Price $350.00. 9 E 17th New York" in lower center on verso.
Not On View

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